With Justine Smith

September 11 / 70

Justine Smith is a PhD student in the Department of Zoology. She recently undertook the Melbourne School of Graduate Research’s Graduate Certificate of Applied Learning and Leadership.

I have found myself doing some unexpected things as a part of my PhD: drilling holes in PVC pipe, wandering around the forest at 4:00am and explaining how camera traps work to Year Nine students. But I never envisaged myself spending a week reading and discussing Plato and Foucault.

I am undertaking my PhD in the Department of Zoology and my research investigates the fire ecology of long-nosed potoroos and southern brown bandicoots in southwest Victoria. Both species are of conservation concern and inhabit fire-prone forest in southeast Australia. My study aims to determine how bandicoots and potoroos are affected by fire, both prescribed burning and wildfire, to assist in establishing suitable fire management practices for the two species.

It’s easy as a PhD student to become quite absorbed in their own field of study, and after two-and- a half years focusing on potoroos and bandicoots, including months of fieldwork ( which involved the aforementioned forest wandering) it was refreshing to set my mind to something completely different – ethical leadership.

 I decided to undertake the Graduate Certificate in Advanced Learning and Leadership (GCALL) to help me think outside my zoological field, to be exposed to different ideas, perspectives and people, and to learn about leadership.  I also found myself reading Plato and Foucault.
The first subject of the course, Ethical Leadership, took me, with 26 other Melbourne University PhD students to Mt Eliza. There we spent an intense five days engaging with the leadership and career stories of six amazing speakers. We also led and participated in student-run seminars and workshops covering various aspects of leadership.

It was a rare chance to enjoy a week working closely with other PhD students and staff from across the University and across the world. It was such a great opportunity to hear about the leadership experiences and ideas of successful Australians such as the Hon. Michael Kirby, former Justice of the Australian Academy of the Court of Appeal of New South Wales, Suzanne Cory, President of the Australian Academy of Science and Munya Andrews, Native Title, human rights and international legal advocate at the Victorian Bar. Hearing these speakers in the context of the seminars we facilitated on topics such as classical perspectives on leadership, leading change and leadership in opposition, complimented, expanded and built on these ideas.

The challenge now is to put all of this information into practice when the time comes for me to lead. Having undertaken this course, it seems there are no absolutes about how best to lead. The context, aims and people involved will all influence the path which will be most effective. That said, to take some key messages from our speakers about ethical leadership -  being courteous, focussing on strengths rather than weaknesses, maintaining integrity and having a ‘carpe diem’ attitude - will provide a good foundation in any situation.

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